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Pather Panchali (1955)

by

Satyajit Ray 

Pather Panchali is one of the all time great emotion flowing films that was shot in 1955 by Satyajit Ray and was produced by the Government of the Indian state of West Bengal. The film was based on a Bengali novel named ‘BibhutibhushanBandopadhyay’ that came out in 1929. The film is centred around the protagonist, Apu in his childhood.

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Even though the camera shots were not perfect, the crew he had at that time were not professional actors, Satyajit Ray never failed to show the world how he could direct a film with all these obstacles. He was successful in telling the world a tale about poor Brahmin family living in the rural Bengal and how they struggle to live in the ups and downs of their lives. One of the main key reasons of Ray being a great auteur is to the fact that he takes long shots and realistic scenes. Many scenes in the film were focused for pretty a long period of time.

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The most unforgettable scene in the entire film is none other than the ‘Train’ scene where it begins with Durga happened to see the power lines followed by Apu who then presses his face against the pole.. Since they are from the poorer states of India, it shows that they were fantasied upon seeing the power lines.

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Soon they both continue to walk through the large Kaash grass which then sways in front of the camera making it coincidentally a remarkable natural shot which makes the audience eyes soft and pleasing to see. The entire scene after that, feels very natural and sometimes I wonder if acting is taking place or not.

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When the train was appearing within the screen, Ray was smart enough not to show the entire vehicle at once in the beginning. He filmed such a way to expose it to the viewers at the same time the children saw it with amazement in their eyes. Later, Ray shot in close up way of the train to tell the audience from the children’s perspective, how would they have felt. Finally he went for a wide shot, without moving the camera, showing off the trails of smoke puffed out by the steam engine.

Music—crucial, of course, to the whole concept of the film—carries us across the transition to the flashback. A shehnai is still playing but now accompanied by a tanpura (a stringed drone instrument) and a tabla (a drum). Ray invited many well known classical musicians in Indian such as Ravi Shankar and Vilayat Khan.

Khan’s score, passionate and evocative, effectively sets the overall mood of the film. When the credits were rolling, we hear an urgent sitar solo, backed by Western-style strings, while the camera focuses in very slowly on an ominously swaying chandelier. This chandelier, the main focal point of Roy’s much-prized music room, will figure prominently in the film: we’ll see it again swaying at the approach of a storm that brings major tragedy into his life, but it also symbolizes his whole existence, glorioust but obsolescent.

http://satyajitray.ucsc.edu/films/pather.html

In spite of poverty and death the film leaves one not depressed but moved, filled with the beauty, and subtle radiance of life. The film suggests an intimate relationship between loss and growth or destruction and creation.

Ray’s comment on this film: “It is true. For one year I was trying to sell the scenario, to peddle it… since nobody would buy it, I decided to start anyway, because we wanted some footage to prove that we were not incapable of making films. So I got some money against my insurance policies. We started shooting, and the fund ran out very soon. Then I sold some art books, some records and some of my wife’s jewellery. Little trickles of money came, and part of the salary I was earning as art director. All we had to spend on was raw stock, hire of a camera and our conveniences, transport and so on… I had nothing more to pawn.”

The original negative of this film was lost in a fire.

About the author: Ashwin Jerome is a petrol head and eats ‘Unicorns’ for breakfast.

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One thought on “Pather Panchali

  1. Hi Ashwin,

    I think that this was a rather well elaborated essay about one of the best films of all time that managed the grasp the complexity of human emotions.

    However i think you could have also elaborated abit more about his use of different aesthetics such as sound or music and camera movement to enhance the emotional level of his scenes. I have included some examples!

    Cheers, Jason

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